Voyages-SNCF, Oui.SNCF and now SNCF-Connect: it’s a new baptism for the first French e-merchant, stemming from the historic French rail operator. On the night of January 24 to 25, 2022, the website and mobile application changed. “There were no service cuts,” rejoiced Benoit Bouffart, SNCF Connect Products & Tech Director. In December 2021, SNCF presented the project carrying the digital ambitions of the incumbent rail operator. This ambition is based on two main pillars: simplicity and completeness. During the presentation to the press on January 25, 2022, Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, insisted: “it is a question of making simplicity a fundamental. “Digital is a way to erase the complexity of the offer, both in terms of transport and prices, at the cost of colossal work in the back office.
Faced with the multiplicity of needs, SNCF had tended to multiply applications, each covering a single family of expectations or intended for a type of public. If the old specific applications will, for the time being at least, survive, SNCF-Connect offers all the functionalities available in each of these applications. This new service offers one hundred million routes across the entire SNCF range (TGV, Intercité, TER, Transilien, Ouigo, Thalys, etc.) and partners (Navigo Ile de France Mobilités, carpooling, buses urban, coaches, etc.) in order to cover all alternative means of mobility to the private car, both daily and for long distances, both single tickets and season tickets. Of course, this promise is based on countless SI connections. For Anne Pruvot, Managing Director of SNCF Connect & Tech, “SNCF-Connect is a single entry point which includes all the functionalities of all the applications. Some functions will, however, only appear over the next few months: the exchange of Ouigo tickets, payment by dematerialized holiday vouchers, etc.
Technology at the service of simplicity, in co-creation
Simplicity is observed from the first contact with the new interface. Thus, the single search bar can be queried in natural language, possibly vocally, to propose a door-to-door route integrating all the modes of transport provided (trains, buses, etc.). If the TER not operated by the SNCF will be offered, the frontally competing offers (such as the TGV Trainitalia) will not be. All tickets and digital subscriptions are also on sale. Some offers (including in Ile-de-France) not yet available in digital formats will just be included in the itineraries offered without the possibility of purchasing the ticket. To create the SNCF-Connect service, the incumbent rail operator analyzed 1.2 million customer returns. The Alpha version (from June to November 2021) involved 5000 customers to define the functionalities and the Beta (November 2021 to yesterday) more than 4000 users, including SNCF employees and representatives of associations. The new service is intended to be more inclusive, covering the entire territory and also addressing populations with various disabilities: written transcription of train announcements for the hearing impaired, possibility of modifying the size of characters in the app for the visually impaired, ability to reserve a seat suitable for people with reduced mobility and accompanying seat next door, etc. The uses of data also aim to anticipate the demands and expectations of travelers to push the right information to the right person at the right time.
The unique search bar and the “dark mode” are the visual signature of the new interface. (Credit: SNCF)
SNCF-Connect is 170 functions for 4,000 use cases (five times more than Oui.SNCF when it was launched). The 300 people involved (including 200 developers divided into 19 agile teams) carried out 9,000 production releases over the course of the project (app and website combined). Hosted on AWS, the platform benefits from technical choices that are intended to be eco-responsible. The “dark mode” signs the aesthetics in order to reduce electricity consumption but, hidden in the bowels of the applications, this desire is mainly reflected in the extinction of unused services, for example. Responsibility goes beyond energy: the collection of data is also intended to be ethical by limiting itself to strict necessities (which strangely corresponds to regulatory requirements, no more and no less). The development is based on Flutter technology which allows a single code base for all environments (iOS, Android, etc.). “Deployment of this technology on this scale is unprecedented,” noted Benoit Bouffart.